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Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

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Our overarching goal is to make New York State a place where children and families feel comfortable and welcome to raise children. We want to re-direct investments into early child care, because we believe that the first three years of a child's life are the most impactful years. This means aligning resources and bringing the community together to prioritize the prenatal-to-three population.

Every day, in our work, we see many American families face barriers, created by institutional and structural racism, that place opportunities for healthy development and quality education out of reach. BUILD’s mission is to support leaders to shift state policies and practices, remove barriers, and dismantle policies and practices that disproportionately negatively affect children and families of color so that all young children and their families can thrive.

Similarly, preventative health and population healthcare have gotten more attention, as have programs like 211 that connect families to resources. Again, we felt like we had developed these policy goals and strategies in a pre-COVID world, but found that in a COVID world, they were just as important, if not more so. Our challenge will be to help policymakers see the connections between our policy agenda and COVID. They've been very much focused on what's immediately related to COVID and are starting to think about the new normal, so our task is to show this is all related to COVID and the recovery.

Although everything has changed in the last few months, nothing has changed in terms of our commitment to what has to happen for babies. It really has allowed us to say, "If we had had all of these systems in place for our families, we would be in a much better place right now during the pandemic."

As soon as Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, The BUILD Initiative knew that families who face significant barriers to and disconnection from supports and services would work hard to get what they needed for their children but have the least access. We thought it essential to reach out to them.

More children, including infants and toddlers, are cared for in home-based settings than in centers. These include Family Child Care and Family, Friend, and Neighbor options. Home-based settings offer many advantages for families such as cultural and linguistic affinity, non-standard work hour availability, care for mixed-age/sibling groups, and a home-like setting. In addition, home-based child care meets the needs of many low-income families who often work shift, hourly, or “gig” economy jobs.

In the midst of a pandemic that as of April 9 has claimed over 16,000 lives in the US, essential workers – those who maintain the services in the absence of which sickness, poverty, violence, and chaos might result – are still reporting to work. While a spotlight has deservedly shone on health care workers and their heroic efforts, many other less prominent essential service providers also continue to do their jobs. Some of those who risk their own well-being to help maintain some semblance of life as we know it include child care workers, postal employees, garbage collectors, mass transit workers, warehouses workers, and a long list of others.

In the US, the coronavirus pandemic is calling attention to our country’s inequities. In addition to creating immediate problems for many of our most vulnerable citizens, it is putting a focus on the gaps that exist – by income, race/ethnicity, language, and culture – in our early childhood system. It is those with the lowest incomes and of minority cultures that are most challenged when we as a nation are instructed to stay home. Many literally cannot afford to follow this directive.

Dismantling racism at the personal, institutional, and structural levels is an ongoing process. To support BUILD’s process in that effort, and that of our partners and colleagues, we have invited Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a leading voice in equity and antiracism, as a plenary speaker at QRIS 2020. Dr. Kendi believes that, "Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” If you haven’t found Dr. Kendi on your social media feed or morning TV yet, get up to speed with some of the compelling articles and podcasts below.

I believe that equity, justice, and early childhood systems change requires that leaders reflect the complex social diversities present in the children, families, communities, and workforce served in all early childhood systems and settings. In systems-building work, we continue to face thorny problems, such as systemic inequality, disproportionality in the workforce, underfunding, inadequate compensation, and fragmentation. If we intend to solve these and other challenging problems that characterize early childhood systems, we need leadership at policy tables (e.g., municipal, state, federal) where key decisions are made that is socially diverse (i.e., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation). This assertion is not simply my opinion but is based on decades of research from psychology, demography, sociology, and organizational science.

The linguistic skills a young dual language learner (DLL) acquires are life-long assets. However, all DLL children share a common trait: they are learning at least two or more distinct linguistic systems during a critical and rapid period of linguistic and cognitive development. How do we best support these learners and their families during this crucial stage of learning?

During the Leading for Indigenous Children and Communities session at QRIS 2019, Patina Park, Miniconjou Lakota-Cheyenne River and Executive Director at the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, set us up with a brief but illuminating history of US domestic colonization and displacement. Before she introduced the rest of the panel, she channeled James Baldwin with these words for our consideration: History is not past. It is current, present, and a living, breathing experience.

As early childhood systems builders, we are well aware that infants and young children undergo rapid developmental changes that are highly influenced by relationships and environment. Supporting families to provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments should be a key element of early care and education programs and services, particularly those that serve populations at high-risk, such as children at risk of entering foster care. (National data show that children birth to age five are at higher risk of placement and enter foster care at higher rates than older children and youth.) Programs and services also should be provided to help prevent child abuse and neglect and to aid pregnant women and families with young children. Through recently approved federal legislation, protecting children at high-risk has become more actionable.

Policymakers increasingly understand the importance of expanding the availability of quality early care and education for young children. But far too often, the lack of funding stands in the way.  A new report, Funding Our Future: Generating State and Local Tax Revenue for Quality Early Care and Education, catalogues successful examples of how state and local tax revenue have been used to support early care and education. The report also introduces potential “next generation” tax policy ideas to bridge the funding gap. 

I encourage parents to stand behind what they believe is best for their children. But I also see instances in which the opportunities don’t exist for parents to act on those beliefs, leaving families without the care and services they need.

The conversations revealed a distressing picture of fear, stress, and unease that occupy the minds of millions of young children and their parents daily and come with harmful implications for children’s long-term development.

While supporting children and families is our utmost priority, working with them can be triggering and overwhelming. Studies show that from 6 to 26 percent of therapists working with traumatized populations, and up to 50 percent of child welfare workers, are at high risk for vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress (STS).

Many immigrant families make the difficult decision to flee their own countries based on unsuitable living conditions at home – from lack of food, water, and shelter to war, forced labor, and torture. They make the often perilous journey to the US only to experience immigration policies here that create fear and anxiety and have profound negative effects on their mental health. Furthermore, those offering services to them often suffer secondary traumatic stress. It is essential that all involved be provided the support they need to avert the short- and long-term impacts of trauma. Please join the BUILD Initiative as we offer four webinars, from April through July 2019, that will provide important areas for consideration in the provision of trauma-informed care as it relates to immigration and US immigration policies.

The early years lay the foundation for children’s long-term health and well-being. Children need secure and stable caregivers, good nutrition, adequate medical care, and a safe place for them to learn and grow. Yet the current immigration policy context is directly threatening these foundations that children need to thrive and is imposing incredible hardship during formative years of children’s development. This policy-induced trauma can have enduring, even life-long consequences for children’s health and wellbeing.